This Girl Is On Fire
First of all, I’d like to thank Alicia Keys for singing this beautiful song into existence. Secondly, I’d like to thank her for so graciously allowing me to adopt “Girl on Fire” as my personal theme song. The song may be 10 years old, but in my opinion, it’s still a bop.
When I entered Northern California, I was anticipating that at some point, I would contract a case of the common “NorCal Blues.” These “blues” often result from a combination of factors. The landscape is more wooded and the views may seem less spectacular in comparison to those in the Sierra. The climbs out of town are often steeper and longer and at some point, the realization sets in that it has taken a very long time to walk through the state of California. To top things off, the massive Dixie Fire in 2021 resulted in a total of 85 miles of burned trail from Bucks Lake up to Old Station. This alone is more than enough to cause a case of the blues.
However, I wouldn’t say that these “blues” accurately reflect what my personal experience has been. I certainly experienced a handful of difficult moments, but I didn’t succumb to the blues or merely trudge through. I felt, I fought, and grew stronger and more determined than ever.
So, what were these moments I speak of, you say? I’ll list a few…
1 – The foot
When I left Sierra City (roughly 400 miles ago), I immediately noticed that something was off with my left foot. Simply put, this “off” feeling did not go away – it actually intensified. After 200 miles, I finally decided to seek help from a physical therapist on trail. I am still dealing with plantar fasciitis or simply put, moderate pain in my arch, but I know how to better manage it for the time being. Needless to say, I am behind many of my friends on trail and realistically, that probably won’t change. Which brings me to…
2 – Alone
While one is never truly alone out here, that’s how I felt for a stretch, especially when my pain was at its worst. There was one morning when I felt strong emotions begin to well up inside of me. Not wanting anyone to see, I found a quiet spot tucked off to the side of the trail and once I was out of sight, I cried. Thankfully, I had enough cell service to place a call and at the other end of the line, my mother’s kind voice reassured me that everything would be okay. Her comforting words helped me find my strength and although the next several days were challenging, I kept walking. During this time, I walked and camped alone, not feeling up to the challenge of interacting with faces that weren’t familiar to me. Thankfully, there were some big milestones during this time – the PCT midpoint and my 3 month trailiversary – which really helped bring up my energy and motivation. Slowly, I also made more of an effort to connect with others around me and even ended up running into some familiar faces after all!
3 – Pressure
As I mentioned before, when hikers reach NorCal, they realize that walking through California has taken a long time and suddenly, reaching Oregon actually seems like a real possibility. Often, they begin to speed up and in many cases, it is not uncommon to start doing 30+ mile days and consistently, too. Even before I initially began experiencing my foot pain, I felt anxious about this phenomenon. Did I want to start doing bigger miles, too? If I didn’t, what would that look like? If I did want to, was I capable?
I didn’t have a hard deadline like some others I knew and felt that as long as I finished by mid-September, I would be fine. For those who aren’t familiar, this is the ideal safety window in which to finish the trail, before the chances of encountering the earlier winter storms in Washington increases. I did calculations and noted that even if I kept averaging 20-25 mile days, I’d still make it in time so I didn’t feel the need to rush. But how would I feel when so many people were flying by me on trail? I’d have to constantly make new connections, which seemed exhausting to me. Now that I had to factor my foot issues into the equation, I didn’t even know what would happen. It seemed inevitable that all of my friends would pass me by. I wondered if I could at least try to see if I could move faster… ugh! I wanted to do what was right for me, but I couldn’t help but feel the pressure from the decisions of those around me.
After my physical therapy consultation, I taped my foot as instructed and made a day of an 8-mile walk to Burney Falls. That evening, I sat on some rocks and watched the falls as the daylight began to fade. As I looked on, it dawned on me how significant this moment was – I had walked all the way from the Mexican border to see this natural wonder. My feet, my body, and my mind had brought me here to this place at this moment. I was exactly where I needed to be.
I began journaling more regularly and started to focus more on prioritizing self-care and practicing self-compassion. I slowly began to push my body more to see whether I could hike slightly more miles and to my delight, I surprised myself with my first 27-mile day! While I still largely prefer to hike by myself, I’ve started to make more of an effort to connect with others on breaks and at camp. Each day, I remind myself that I am living my dream and that I am doing my personal best.
Now, as I write these very words, less than 100 miles remain between me and Oregon and in my heart, I know that nothing can stop me from reaching that border.
I’m just a girl and I’m on fire.
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